Sunday, October 30, 2005

New Stuff

I have a review of Miriam Peskowitz's The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars and Judith Warner's Perfect Madness up here now.

And a new column, here.

Let me know what you think! And check out the rest of the great stuff at Literary Mama, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I am a wimp

Becca, in comments, says she's waiting until November to turn her heat on, even though it's colder in her house than mine. The Yarn Harlot is again engaged in the competition with her brother to see who can hold out the longest before turning on the heat--and they live in Canada. I, on the other hand, am basking in the warmth of clunky old radiators and a thermostat set at 68. From the warmth of my living room, I bow to their greatness.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I love my son

I was battling with Nick before he was even out of bed yesterday. Legos strewn on the floor between the dresser and bed, the new Darth Vader costume wadded up on the floor (it's too big, Mommy! I can't wear it!), a pile of stuffed animals mounded up on top of him in set me off and we were at odds with each other until we left the house. In fact Mark offered to drive him (as he usually does) but by that time I wanted closure, maybe even a chance to make things better, so I hustled him in to the car myself.

In the car:

"Mommy, I don't want to say I don't like my backpack, because I do-- but I wish kids wouldn't tease me about it."

"About what?"

"Well, everyone says it's a girl color because it's purple.* But there's no such** as girl colors and boy colors! There are just colors!"

"You're right, Nick--and even if there were, purple used to be a color for kings, right?"

"I said that. But A still says it's a girl color and R said he'd tell on me for it!"

So kids are threatening to "tell" on each other for gender infractions. Third grade's tough.

Well, we talked about it for a while, and agreed with each other that, no, there's no such as boy colors and girl colors, but that it hurts when your friends tease you anyway. After school we talked some more about it, and remembered that he does have friends who don't tease, and tried to work out who teases and who doesn't, and why. We didn't really solve that, but it was good to talk about it anyway.

He doesn't really want me to buy him a new backpack in a boy color. He wants me to make the world right. Unfortunately, it'll be a whole lot easier to buy him a new backpack. In a boy color. Sigh.

*Not only is it purple, it's pale purple, maybe even lavender. With pale gray. And, to tell the truth, Mark bought it for Mariah, who decided she didn't want it. (She's not carrying a backpack at all this year, just an assortment of bags.) But it was such a deal, and such a great shape, size, etc., that we kept it anyway, and Nick asked to use it.

**Nick has always used this locution rather than "no such thing." I'm not sure why.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


It is 62 degrees fahrenheit in my house this morning. Now, I'm ready for the cooler weather (the baking! the knitting!) but this is a little much for me. Nick's oatmeal was, he says, "room temperature" by the time I got it from the microwave to the dining room table. That's too cold.

So I guess I need to go remember how to light the pilot light on the heater. I have been waiting for November, out of some misplaced sense that if we don't light the pilot light until November we won't go broke heating the house. But if we freeze to death before that we'll save more money, but for what? (OK, I realize 62 is not even close to freezing to death--indulge me.) If I don't post for a few days, send out a search party. I may be lost in the wilds of junk that currently populate our basement.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

make this cake!

Becca posted a great cake recipe here: Not Quite Sure: Chocolate Banana Cake

I made it tonight (you'll notice she pretty much dared me to) and, yes, it's that good. Mark said it was one of the best cakes he'd ever had. And I make a lot of cakes. Everyone loved it. And the frosting is really easy and good, too.

Oh, and all that about "good quality chocolate"? It could be better, I suppose, but mine was Hershey's all the way (both for the cake--cocoa--and the frosting--semisweet) and it was fine.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

me and netflix

I get these movies, and then they sit and wait for me to watch them, and then, I don't, and after a while I send them back. Or watch them. Luckily the kids watch a lot of movies and so I try to keep the queue filled up with their stuff--in fact, Mariah has her own queue, so there's almost always something for her. And Nick has had the Star Wars saga going for a little while. But I finally got around to Pirates of the Caribbean last night. I'd been wanting to see it, and never had, so I put it on the list and it came. And then, it was playoff time, and if I was going to stay up late for something it was going to be baseball. But last night there was no baseball, and no one else was home, either. Mark and Nick are out camping and Mariah was with a friend. So I heated up leftovers, poured a glass of wine, and popped in the movie.

Which immediately popped back out again. "Disk unplayable," read the screen. And indeed, the disk that's been sitting next to my TV for two weeks unwatched, not even out of the sleeve, had a big crack across it.

Luckily Blockbuster is only two blocks away. I know it's evil, but --like I said-- two blocks away. And I had a coupon. I found the movie and somehow the coupon that I thought said $1 off made the movie free.

And my dinner was still hot (ok, warm) when I got home.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Oh dear

I fear I've created a monster. Not all by myself, certainly. I had help. But I fear that Mariah is destined for the same nerdy future her parents inhabit. Of course, there are worse things: soul-crushing boredom comes to mind. But financial security may be out of the question for her.

Today she said to me, "most of my friends haven't really read Alice in Wonderland, or Through the Looking-Glass. And they mix up the characters in them, and the stories. E only knew three characters, the Mad Hatter, the Rabbit, and the Walrus. And the Walrus isn't even really a character, he's just in a poem that someone else says!"

Well, yes. They've all seen the Disney cartoon, whereas you, my dear one, are inhabiting the book. (Have I mentioned that she seems to be committing it to memory, reading it nightly as she falls asleep?) Those who inhabit books, however pleasurable that world is (and I have my doubts about Alice, though that's another story) are, I fear, doomed to inhabit academe as well.

I will look into why I fear that my daughter would follow in my footsteps another day. Many parents would, I know, rejoice in that knowledge. Hmm.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Into the woods - The Boston Globe

Here's an interesting take on the popularity of English fantasy fiction in America today. He doesn't mention Harry Potter or His Dark Materials--interesting and perhaps telling omissions--but it's an pretty good piece nonetheless. The idea that fantasy is somehow purely escapist is one of the most pervasive and wrong-headed myths I know about the genre.

Click the link to read the whole piece, or just check out the last paragraph here.

Into the woods - The Boston Globe: "Who can ignore the merry foreground, the delirium of distraction, that currently prevails in American life-in a country at war, under threat of terror, with an impending energy crisis and a scandalous political culture? One senses that unknown dangers are preparing to assert themselves, and the closer they get, the dreamier everyday life begins to feel. This sensation is the hallmark of the English fantasists: Evil encroaches on the Shire, hallucinated blood spreads across a field at the Sandleford warren. The consolations of fantasy exist only in relation to its special terrors, and if we choose to seek these consolations and terrors in the archetypal darkness of the movie theater, or in the ancient privacy of a book, might we not be closer there to the truth than in the land of make-believe that awaits us outside on the street, or when we put the book down?"

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

fall baseball

I am watching way too much baseball. Every year this happens. We don't have cable, so I can't really follow baseball during the season. Besides, it's just somehow wrong to watch a lot of TV in the summer. But then the playoffs roll around and I find myself sitting on the couch glued to games between teams I don't even care about. I ask you, the Angels? The White Sox? Houston?? (I have a soft spot for the Cards because Tony La Russa does a great radio interview, and a good friend is a die-hard fan. But otherwise...)

One good thing about baseball is that I get a lot of knitting done, though. I've finished this (admittedly, started before the playoffs began) and this (scroll down) in the past few days. My knitting rut continues--I've made the spiral scarf three times now, I think, and the wrap is similar to (though easier than) the clapotis that obsessed me in the spring. I am still afraid to knit anything where the shape or fit actually matters. Or, for that matter, anything that has to be made in pieces. Though I have this cool red and black yarn that I really think wants to be a maybe I should bite the bullet and try.

Monday, October 17, 2005

three pears left

The two boxes of pears are almost gone: there are only three left. The last big batch of them ended up in this, which is very tasty. The pastry is truly well-named, too. I have a little bit of a pastry fear, but this one really was easy. And tasty. I cheated and just used chocolate chips rather than chopping up chocolate, and I think chopped would have been better, but it was just fine as is.

Mark and Nick are going to pick apples on Friday, so there will be apple baking over the weekend. I can't wait.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


This began life as a comment (in my head...I never got over there to post it) on Becca's post on stories, but it kept growing and growing so I put it here.

So: why do ambivalent experiences make for better stories than happy ones?

(Can I just say, I love the intertextuality of blogs? I would never have gotten to this without the prompt from Becca...)

Well, there's Tolstoy's quip about happy and unhappy families. The unhappy families, experiences, whatever, give us the conflict we need to move a narrative along. Happiness is not really always static, but it is much harder to find the motive force, I think, in a happy story. (Not one with a happy ending--those are often pretty conflict-laden along the way.) Thus we spent a fabulous summer in England, but the story we most often tell is about the obnoxious neighbor who played the drums so badly and loudly. That's the story that has conflict. And, for that matter, resolution.

(Here's the short version of that story: early in our stay the woman next door came to tell us that her son and his mates practiced music on Saturdays and we said that would be fine. She said it would be loud and we said that was ok, we could probably go out. Then it started. It was really really loud. And really really bad: arhythmic drums, unmelodic, feedback-laden guitar and bass. Screaming. The whole bit. And then the practicing started happening on other days, other times. On rainy days Mark and the kids felt trapped in the house by the rain, assaulted by the noise. Finally he went over to remonstrate with them. No one came to the door. He went back later, when the mom was home from work. She brought her son and his mates over to the house, where they sat in the living room while Mark played the heavy. I believe the word "police" was mentioned. I believe "get a job" may also have been uttered. (Did I mention the son was 20-something?) The band returned to the previous practice schedule, the weather improved, and things got better. La-la.)

But that's not really ambivalent. So that brings me to my second thought, which is that, while we may tell the conflict-laden stories for entertainment, to amuse or delight or excite an audience, we may tell the ambivalent stories for ourselves. Ambivalence always has something to work out. And the more we tell those stories, the more we work through the issues about which we were ambivalent, the more we come to some kind of closure or resolution on them.


I"m not sure at all that this is what Becca really meant, actually, but it's where the thoughts led me. Which is why I need to read other people's words at least as much as I need to write, and indeed in order to write.

(Speaking of which: Gilead? Over there on the reading list? I can't remember the last time I finished a novel and wanted immediately to turn back to the beginning and start again. To buy copies for everyone I know. To keep it with me so I could quote lines from it at random times during the day. I know, I know, I'm late to the party, everyone already knows what a good book this is, but let me enjoy it anyway.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

fall cooking

In the fall of 2002 I opened a new word document that I ambitiously titled "A Year in Food." I detailed the meals I made, the baking I did, for about two months. So, not a year at all.

Looking over it late last night I was amazed at my productivity. No wonder I didn't publish much! (Though, actually, I think I got quite a bit out that year as well. Hmm.) There was bread almost every other day. There were soups, roasts, cookies, cakes. There were experiments that didn't work and many that did. There were, I believe, some additional pounds as well.

The weather has turned cooler and I've started fall cooking again. I have not yet pulled out the crock pot (indeed, I'd forgotten how much I liked using it, that fall). But I have baked three pear desserts in less than a week (pear brown betty from an old Food and Wine, walnut pear upside-down cake adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and pear tarte tatin, if you want to know). The pear bounty is courtesy of my mother-in-law, who sent us two boxes of pear perfection. Oh, I also made pear-rosemary bread! (Scroll down for the recipe...) I've also made dinner in the oven a couple of times--always a sign that winter is approaching and I am back in casserole-and-roast mode.

I don't think I'll keep track of every meal this fall, but it is helpful to know what works and what doesn't. Too often I save a recipe even though we didn't much like it, or lose one that we did. After I made the bread the other night I found the exact same recipe written down on a slip of paper and shoved into the breadbox. I know I'd never made it before, but it must have looked good. It was.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I'm a winner!

Early morning. I'm sitting on the edge of Nick's bed, rubbing/scratching his head--the only visible body part.

"Mom, why are you scratching my head like one of those things that you scratch off to win something?"

"I don't know, Nick, maybe I think I'll win something, too."

"But you already won me and Mariah! What more could you win?"

Thursday, October 06, 2005


I meant to post this morning, but days when I don't teach often get away from me, and this was one of those. So instead I give you a very old "he really said this." Nick was three. Mariah was ten. We were visiting friends who have three girls, who were (then) ages 10, maybe 6, and maybe 2? The two little ones were on either side of Nick, in any event.

Their house was awash with pink, Disney, princesses, telephones, Barbies, you name it. Girlie stuff. Stuff Mariah had played with, too, but with three girls there was more than three times as much, somehow.

Nick fit in right away. He had a great time playing. The two older girls knew each other from before and got along great, and the three little ones played and played. Nick turned one of the phones into a gun, I remember--our friends were a little appalled, never having seen such behavior, but it made sense to him (and, I guess, us). He just turned the thing sideways and pointed the antenna (it was an old, retired, cordless phone handset) as if it were the barrel of the gun. Great.

The grownups were outside on the patio, finishing up dinner, sipping on margaritas or some such. It was a warm, pleasant evening and the kids seemed to be taking care of themselves. Then Nick and one of the little girls rushed out. She was clearly upset, though he was having a great time. He slammed a baby doll down on the picnic table and shouted "She's dead! She's dead! The bad guys shooted her and she's dead!"

I know girls' play can get violent and aggressive, but those words had never been said in that house before. And perhaps not since, if they're lucky.

We have not been so lucky, though Nick (who is going to be Darth Vader for Hallowe'en, did I mention that?) is a sweet kid. Somehow this is in him, too, and it's got to come out.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Baci Ice Cream

I don't know why this recipe is showing up in a Cooking Light forum; it is absolutely not light. However, it is absolutely one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. I left out the hazelnut syrup (because I didn't have any) and the result was still amazing: almost like a frozen mousse, only even thicker and creamier. But small serving sizes are a must, I think. It's just way too rich to eat too much of.

Some of the forum participants thought it was too rich. Not us, though.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

banned books: Me too!

I read from two of these last week at our Banned Books Week commemoration (celebration just sounds wrong). And I've seen this on some other blogs, so I thought I'd play, too: which of the 100 most frequently banned and challenged books have I read? Answers in bold:

Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
Forever by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Giver by Lois Lowry

It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Sex by Madonna
Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
The Witches by Roald Dahl

The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
The Goats by Brock Cole
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
Blubber by Judy Blume
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
Final Exit by Derek Humphry
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
Deenie by Judy Blume
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
Cujo by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Fade by Robert Cormier
Guess What? by Mem Fox
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Native Son by Richard Wright

Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Jack by A.M. Homes
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
Carrie by Stephen King
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts by Howard Stern
Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education by Jenny Davis
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

I did include a couple--The Summer of My German Soldier and Flowers for Algernon, specifically--that I am pretty sure I read as a kid (I can still picture the covers) but about which I could tell you, really, nothing. So you can subtract those two if you want. It still feels like a respectable number (36, and I didn't count at least two for which I've seen the movie but not read the book...)

In case you care, I read In the Night Kitchen and a brief selection from Bridge to Terabithia at our event last week.

are we there yet?

No, we haven't been on a driving vacation in a while, and the kids are not too terribly whiney about them when we do. But I've been feeling lately like I'm on some bizarre funhouse ride and I'm ready to get off and it's just not going to happen. But, really, I'm ready for a rest. Or something.

Last weekend I went to a conference. I heard brilliant academic papers, sat through long interesting talks (but don't ask me to recapitulate them for you), attended a master class, and caught up with old friends. Some I hadn't seen in twelve years, since we've been living here. I also had a long phone conversation with a friend I haven't seen in a while. And I ate a terrific meal, too.

This was all good.

In the meantime I was not, of course, at home for much of the weekend. But life did not stand still in my absence: Mariah went to a birthday party, Nick played with friends, Mark took Nick out to lunch, they even cleaned the house! Nonetheless I felt somehow that I'd missed something important. This always happens when I go away--I want everything at home to stop so I can pick up where I left off, and no one will have missed me.

Mariah's friends are driving. Can I just go to sleep for the next couple of years and wake up when she's learned how and I don't have to freak out every time I think of it?

Yes, I am aware that this desire to sleep through major changes in my daughter's life is in direct conflict with my desire that they freeze in place while I'm away. I cannot reconcile these incompatible desires.

Monday, October 03, 2005

comment spam

OK, count me among those now using "word verification" on comments to prevent spam. I've gotten some weird ones lately--including a link to a Narnia website?

Oh, and is everyone getting this little Vonage thing all over blogger lately? I'm sick of it, let me tell you.

Real post tomorrow, I promise.